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It’s about time Singapore engages in much more open and honest conversations about race

There is more to be done, what we have attained is perhaps tolerance at best

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Singapore — “One united people regardless of race, language or religion.” This is what all Singaporeans recite in the National Pledge. Many countries around the world laud and look to Singapore as the model multiracial society, one that many should aspire to in terms of managing race relations.

Yet, many Singaporeans (especially in recent years) will tell you that while Singapore has indeed come far in managing the race issue, the journey has not ended and there is more to be done. What we have attained is perhaps tolerance at best.

The Younger Generation Is More Open

It’s about time Singapore engages in much more open and honest conversations about race. The younger generation especially are the ones who are much more willing to engage in these conversations.

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Just last week, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung spoke about how young people today have a very different view of race and religion. He mentioned that the generation before him approached Singapore’s diversity with a tolerant mindset, while his generation is more accepting and appreciative of other cultures.

He said: “But if you ask people of my generation to sit down and have a conversation (about sensitive issues), it feels awkward, and almost a bit embarrassing and uncomfortable.”

Continuing with the generation of today, he mentioned that “they actually want to talk about it. But they need facilitation, and they are honest about it”.

This is a viewpoint I agree with wholeheartedly. The younger generation of today seem  to be much more vocal about what they view of racial prejudice, and other issues like gender discrimination and climate change.

Exhaustion From Educating The Majority

Some of my friends from the minority races have commented that they feel that many from the majority race are ignorant about the plight of the minority races. One of my Indian friends commented that she constantly feels tired having to explain to her Chinese friends why certain issues are racist.

The exhaustion of having to explain racism to the majority race is something that many minorities feel and rightfully so.

When looking at the way racial and religious issues are discussed online, one common narrative that emerges is the rhetoric that the onus is not on the minority groups to educate the majority race on racism.

This is indeed true.

How then can we resolve this exhaustion?

I have spoken to a number of friends, and they have all mentioned how it’s important to start engaging in such conversations about race and religion at a young age.

Many (myself included) have highlighted that their days in school were where they faced a substantial amount of racist comments.

It is, therefore, important to correct this when we are at an impressionable, young age to prevent the ignorance to be carried on as we mature.

Starting Young

Tampines Secondary School recently used conversation cards and board games to engage students on race and religion, which I find is a much more fruitful way to celebrate Racial Harmony Day. Such engagement with these scenarios will heighten the empathy and sensitivity of the young to such issues.

Of course, engaging in such dialogue does not mean we do it only on Racial Harmony Day.

Sometimes when I share my own experiences facing racism to some of my friends who are Chinese, they find themselves uncomfortable or awkward hearing my experiences and are unsure of how to react to them.

To foster an environment that allows all parties to engage in such sensitive issues comfortably and sensibly, perhaps at a school level it should be inculcated into our daily curriculum. This could range from having games such as those used by Tampines Secondary School to showing movies that highlight similar themes or even having simple sharing sessions within the class.

Schools are not the only parties that should be involved in ensuring open conversations about race. The home is another, so parents should do as best as they can to start conversations with their children about race and religion as well. The issue is then, what happens if some parents themselves are holding onto racist mindsets? Well, then its time for the children to share what they have learnt from their friends and in school to try and educate their parents.

Not Ignoring The Experiences Of The Majority

However, it is also important to remind ourselves that while perhaps the minority races are more overtly the subject of racism, the Chinese in Singapore too have their own experiences that we should not deny.

The propagation of the “Chinese Privilege” discourse in Singapore is well-intentioned, with those who raise it wanting to give more voice to minorities in Singapore. However, what some have done is to use this discourse to silence the experiences of racism felt by the Chinese, which I find problematic.

If we were to indeed engage in open conversations, what is equally important is the nature in which we engage in these conversations. It should be an open space for all parties involved to share their experiences freely, without condemnation or devaluation by the others. /TISG

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